I just uploaded another batch of 26 copyright-free hymns onto Google Drive.
This collection of copyright-free hymns now includes a total of 63 hymns, with 38 copyright-free versions of hymns in the two current Unitarian Universalist hymnals, along with 24 other hymns and songs (including classics like “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” which really should be in our hymnals anyway). Not only are tune, text, and arrangement copyright-free, but the typesetting is as well, so you can project these or place them in online orders of service without a problem.
The “ReadMe” file in the Google Drive folder gives some information about each hymn, and also gives the corresponding number if there’s a version of the hymn in one of the UU hymnals.
In several cases, hymn texts now offer degenderized lyrics, for those who prefer to move away from binary gender options (e.g, for “The Earth is our mother,” the alternative “The Earth is our parent” is suggested). Eventually, I’ll offer degenderized options for all lyrics, but it takes — so — much — time to produce quality music typesetting that I can’t promise when I’ll get to it.
Whether you use these in your congregation’s online worship services, or at home, or around a campfire, I think you’ll find lots of fun and uplifting music here. I’d love it if you’d let me know where and how and if you use this music!
Update, 1/18/2022: Now up to 71 total hymns and spiritual songs, with 44 of them being copyright-free versions of hymns from the two current UU hymnals. List of hymns (with references to hymnal numbers, and notes on copyright status) below the fold.
• All hymns are on standard 8-1/2 x 11 inch sheets, but proportioned so that they may be reduced on a photocopier to fit onto a half sheet suitable for insertion in a typical order of service.
• I have carefully researched all tunes, arrangements, and texts to find versions that are in the public domain in the United States. Except where noted below, the tunes, arrangements, and texts have been taken from printed sources dated 1925 or before (i.e., they’re in the public domain in the U.S.). Where I have supplied simple arrangements or other music, or combined or altered tune, text, or arrangement, I have released all such work into the public domain. While I believe all tunes, texts, and arrangements are public domain in the U.S., I make no warranty to that effect; nor can I take any responsibility for how others use these hymns and tunes.
• For hymn tunes composed 1820 or earlier, I provide the tune number form Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index. For a few later hymn tunes, I provide the tune number from D. DeWitt Wasson’s Hymn-tune Index and Related Materials. For songs listed in the Roud Folk Song Index, I provide the Roud number.
• This material will be updated as I have time to write up more my research and include more information about tunes and texts.
Version 1.8 — 17 January 2022
A – E
All Are Architects of Fate — See: The Builders
Amazing Grace — 205
The text is by John Newton, from his book Olney Hymns (1779). Minor variations have crept into the text over the years, but the whole remains firmly in the public domain.
The tune is “New Britain,” and while it’s unclear who actually wrote the tune, it was first published in The Columbian Harmony (1829), and first paired with Newton’s text by William Walker in his 1835 Southern Harmony. The present arrangement is an early twentieth century arrangement of the tune. Some people prefer to add a fermata on the first note of the seventh measure, and on the final note.
The song is #5430 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
Ancient Mother — 1069
This anonymous chant, transcribed from oral tradition, is from the late twentieth century North American Pagan community. It is typically sung repeatedly for 3 minutes or so.
As We Come Marching — See: Bread and Roses
Balm in Gilead — 1045
A traditional African American spiritual, in a lovely 1919 arrangement by the African American composer Harry T. Burleigh. Burleigh’s original piano accompaniment varies from verse to verse; the present version uses one of Burleigh’s verses, and is released into the public domain.
Bread and Roses (As We Come Marching) — 109
The poem by James Oppenheim was published in December, 1911, in The American Magazine. The next month, on January 11, 1912, a coalition of textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, went on strike, and used the poem as a rallying cry.
The tune and arrangement by Caroline Kohlsaat dates to c. 1920.
Bring O Morn Thy Music — 39
The 1893 text by Unitarian minister William Channing Gannett. The text has been altered slightly (and the alteration is released into the public domain), but the text remains closer to the original than the version in Singing the Living Tradition.
The tune is “Nicaea” by John B. Dykes.
Buddha’s Hymn of Victory — not in hymnals
Words Gautama Buddha supposedly said upon achieving enlightenment, drawn from two English metrical translations/paraphrases, by Charles Lanman and Paul Carus.
The tune is “Windham” by Daniel Read, first published in 1785. Two versions of the music are given. The first version included here represents Read’s 1804 revision of the arrangement, as published in Columbian Harmony, 1807; but while Read’s version holds three cadences for 6 beats (a measure and a half), with the soprano and alto voice dropping out after one beat, these long held notes are reduced to two beats (half a measure). The second version included here keeps the long held cadences, and uses a nineteenth century arrangement taken from The Sacred Harp; this version really needs tenors and basses to sing the held notes at the cadences, or perhaps organ accompaniment, and probably works best as a choir anthem. Note that some sources state that this is a Dorian tune; in eighteenth and early nineteenth century American choral practice, tunes notated at minor (Aeolian) were sometimes sung as Dorian, with a raised sixth degree of the scale. In the present version the music has been notated as minor, leaving it up to performers to decide whether to raise the sixth degree of the scale or not.
The tune is #4628 in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn and Tune Index.
Builders, The — 288
This version of Longfellow’s hymn text is from The Liberal Hymn Book (New York: Burnz & Co., 1880).
The tune, called “Pleyel’s Hymn (First),” is adapted from the andante movement of Ignaz Pleyel’s 1788 String Quartet in G Major (Benton 349). The present arrangement appeared in a number of late nineteenth century hymnals.
The tune is #5356a in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.
By the Waters of Babylon — 279
Tune and text are from A Muse’s Delight by Philip Hayes (1786). The present version is somewhat simplified for congregational singing (most notably, a fourth part is left off, turning Hayes’s four-part round into a three-part round). This altered version is released into the public domain.
The version printed in Singing the Living Tradition is attributed to William Billings, but it does not appear in the Complete Works of William Billings. Instead, it’s apparently derived from a 1971 commercial recording by Don McLean, who wrongly attributes it to Billings; because its first appearance is on a commercial recording, the tune may therefore be covered by copyright.
City of Our Hopes (Hail the Glorious Golden City) — 140
The text is by Felix Adler, founder of the Ethical Culture movement. It appears that this poem was first published as a hymn in the 1904 Pilgrim Hymnal, where the opening line is “Sing we of the golden city….” The present text is taken from the American Unitarian Assoc. Hymn and Tune Book of 1914, with one change in wording: “Only righteous men and women” has been changed to “Only righteous upright people”; this small change serves to include children as well as non-binary persons as residents of Adler’s golden city.
The tune is “Hyfrydol” by Rowland Pritchard, first published in 1844. The arrangement is by the gospel composer Charles H. Gabriel, as it appeared in Great Revival Hymns No. 2, ed. Homer A. Rodeheaver and B. D. Ackley, Charles H. Gabriel music editor, 1912 (hymn 124).
Commonwealth of Toil — not in hymnals
The familiar text by Ralph Chaplin, taken from the 1918 edition of the I.W.W. Songbook.
The music is a late nineteenth century arrangement of “Darling Nellie Gray.”
Dona Nobis Pacem — 388
Traditional words and music for this familiar round, transcribed from oral tradition.
This round, or canon, has been variously attributed to Mozart or Palestrina, though both attributions are questionable. The round includes intervals of a seventh (e.g., m. 2, between mm. 4-5), which seem more typical of music composed in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. There are frequent references to the round from the mid-twentieth on, and it’s entirely possible that it was composed during the early to mid twentieth century. Nevertheless, it seems completely safe to assign it to the public domain, as the music and text have been widely reprinted and recorded, with no one claiming copyright.
Down by the Riverside (Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield) — 162
The tune and arrangement are taken from the earliest known publication of this tune (1918, Plantation Melodies). Some of the verses are of unknown origin.
The song is #11886 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
Down in the Valley — not in hymnals
There are many different versions of the tune, including many recorded by African Americans and European American bluegrass and country singers. The present version is an African American version from the earliest known publication of the tune, in the 1867 book Slave Songs of the U.S. The simple arrangement is released into the public domain.
Earth Is Enough (Here on the Paths of Every Day) — 312
The poem “Earth Is Enough” by Universalist Edwin Markham. The original begins with a couplet that is here included under the hymn title. (The arrangement of the poem in Singing the Living Tradition, which leaves out the first couplet and reverses the order of the two stanzas, is probably not covered under copyright.)
This version of tune and arrangement comes from the 1905 Methodist Hymnal. The tune is “Fillmore,” and is usually attributed to Jeremiah Ingalls.
The tune is #08859 in D. DeWitt Wasson’s Hymn-tune Index.
Earth Is Our Mother (Parent), The — 1073
This anonymous chant, transcribed from oral tradition, is probably from the late twentieth century North American Pagan community. It is typically sung repeatedly for 3 minutes or so.
Gender nonspecific language is included for those who prefer to imagine Earth and Sky as being non-binary gender.
The chorus, “Hey yanna,” etc., is often stated to be of Native American origin, though no evidence was found to either prove or disprove that. Alternate words to the chorus are also provided: “Unite, all beings; we are one; we are one.”
Earth, the Air, the Fire, the Water, The — 387
This anonymous chant, transcribed from oral tradition, is probably from the late twentieth century North American Pagan community. It is typically sung repeatedly for 3 minutes or so. (There are many variants of this chant, and I notated it the way I happened to learn it.) The groups I sang this with often used to harmonize a third above or a sixth below the melody.
Evening Breeze / Morning Turns to Glory — 1072
Two anonymous chants, transcribed from oral tradition, probably from the late twentieth century North American Pagan community. The changes may be sung separately, successively, or simultaneously.
However, even though these two chants may be sung together simultaneously, the harmonies (and dissonances) may be challenging for the average congregation; it might work better to have the congregation sing one of these chants while a soloist sings the other.
Everlasting Word, The — not in hymnals
Text by Ralph Waldo Emerson, adapted to hymn form by Samuel Longfellow for the 1864 hymnal Hymns of the Spirit. This is, in fact, one of the few hymns actually written by Emerson, with words that have not been substantially rearranged.
The tune “Clamanda” derives from an eighteenth century song tune; the present harmony was first published in 1820 in Supplement to the Kentucky Harmony; and the present four-part version, derived from that, was published in the 1902 Cooper revision of The Sacred Harp.
The tune is #11061 in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.
F – J
Friendship — not in hymnals
In The Philadelphia Songster of 1789 (pp. 12-13), this text is attributed to a “Mr. Bidwell of Connecticut.” The 1789 version gives the opening phrase as “Friendship to every generous mind….”
The original melody came from “Viva la face, viva l’amor” in the third act of Handel’s opera “Atalanta.” By 1798, the tune had been published withthe present text in The American Musical Miscellany, ed. Andrew Wright (Northampton, Mass.: Daniel Wright and Co., 1798, pp. 249-252). The present arrangement is by William Walker, in his Southern and Western Pocket Harmonist of 1860. Walker’s arrangement does not follow conventional rules of harmony, but if you can resist the temptation to regularize it you’ll find it’s satisfying to sing.
(I was introduced to this song by a Unitarian Universalist who said that in his opinion it was one of the best embodiments of Unitarian Universalist sentiment in song.)
For the Beauty of the Earth — 21
The original text was written by Folliot Sandford Peirpont, and first published in 1864. The present text is taken from the following sources: vv. 1, 3, chorus: Hymn and Tune Book (American Unitarian Assoc., 1914); v. 2: Pierpont’s original 1864 words. While the 1914 Unitarian version begins the chorus with “Lord of all,” in the late 1970s Unitarian Universalists removed the masculine reference by singing “God of all” or “Source of all,” and the latter wording is now the most popular.
The tune comes from a melody in the chorale “Treuer Heiland, wir sind hir” by Conrad Kocher, from his Stimmen aus den Reicher Gottes (1838). William H. Monk revised and shortened Kocher’s melody, and published his arrangement in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). The present version of the music is the 1861 version, transposed to G and changed from 4/2 to 4/4 time.
Forward through the Ages — 114
Text by Unitarian minister Frederick Hosmer, from the American Unitarian Assoc. Hymn and Tune Book of 1914.
The tune is by Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, from the same hymnal.
Future, The — see: Years Are Coming
Future Is Better Than the Past, The — not in hymnals
The text, often wrongly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, is by Eliza Thayer Clapp, a Unitarian mystic who contributed this poem to the Transcendentalist periodical The Dial in 1841. The poem was made into a hymn by Frederic Hedge and Frederic Huntington in 1853.
The tune is the cheerful eighteenth century tune “Amsterdam,” in a nineteenth century shape note arrangement, slightly altered for congregational use.
The tune is #1648c in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.
Get on Board — not in hymnals
The present version was published in 1873 by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the first internationally known African American singing ensemble.
Give Us Pleasure in the Flowers — See: Prayer for Spring
Go Down, Moses (When Israel Was in Egypt’s Land) — 104
The classic African American spiritual in an 1873 arrangement by the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The small notes are an added simple piano accompaniment to what was an a capella solo in the original.
Guide My Feet — 348
This folk song was collected by Willis Laurence James. Professor at Spelman College from 1933-1966, James received a grant in 1939 to collect African American folk songs, and he collected this song in southern Georgia. James commented that although the melody uses only three pitches, “yet it has great power.”
The most familiar arrangement is one by Wendell Whalum, a younger colleague of James; Whalum fully notated the vocal ornaments that James indicated by grace notes, made it into a call-and-response song, and added a more sophisticated harmony. This copyright-protected arrangement has become so widespread that it is all too easy to slip into its familiar melody and harmonies when improvising. The present arrangement uses the very simple melody notated by James, with a very simple arrangement folk-style harmony (the arrangement has been released into the public domain); like James’s version, it is not in call-and-response form.
Hail the Glorious Golden City — See: City of Our Hopes
Healer of the Wounded Heart — not in hymnals
The poignant text is by Penina Moise, who was arguably the first major American Jewish woman poet.
The tune is by Alois Kaiser, a composer who has been called “the founder of the American cantorate.” Both music and text are from early twentieth century printed sources.
Here on the Paths of Every Day — See: Earth Is Enough
How Can I Keep from Singing? (My Life Flows On in Endless Song) — 108
This is not an old Quaker hymn, as is claimed in many hymnals and songbooks. The earliest known publication of the words was in 1868, in the New York Observer, where it was attributed to “Pauline T.”; Robert Lowry then set the text to music for his 1869 Bright Jewels for the Sunday school. The third verse, written in 1950 by Doris Plenn, was the subject of litigation when Enya recorded this verse, thinking it was a public domain song. Pete Seeger’s publishing company sued her, claiming copyright, but in litigation the court determined that Seeger did not have a good claim to the copyright, and that Plenn had intended the verse to go into the public domain.
The tune is by the well-known nineteenth century gospel composer Robert Lowry, Bright Jewels for the Sunday School (1869).
I’m on My Journey Home — not in hymnals
The tune and arrangement are by Sarah Lancaster (1834-1918), a composer of hymn tunes and shape note music. The alto part was added in 1911 by Belle Spivey.
There are several texts with a refrain of “I’m on my journey home,” from both the black and white American musical traditions; the present version includes verses from three different sources. As is usual with such songs, the journey home is a journey to “Canaan’s land,” which can be interpreted in many ways: as heaven, freedom, a better life.
I’m on My Way — 116
The words are from the public domain.
The first version of the music is a public domain choral arrangement. The second version is a lead sheet based on the singing of Rev. Pearly Brown (youtube.com/watch?v=vJzj-6vNhwQ). Many treat this as a call-and-response number, e.g., the recording by Flatt and Scruggs (youtube.com/watch?v=_nWzYfSKFLE).
(N.B.: During the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, the ending of the first verse was changed from “Canaan’s land” or “that new bright land,” to “the freedom land.”)
It Sound Along the Ages — 187
Text by William Channing Gannett, taken from Unity Hymns and Chorals, 1911, slightly altered.
The music (named “Far Off Lands” for another hymn text with which it was paired) is hymn #254 in Hemlandssänger utgifna af Augustana-synoden, a Swedish-language Lutheran hymnal published in Rock Island, Ill., in 1892; this hymnal attributes the melody to the Bohemian Brethren.
Jacob’s Ladder — 211
The tune, arrangement, and text for vv. 1-3 are from Cabin and Plantation Songs: As Sung by the Hampton Students, 3rd ed., arranged by Thomas P. Fenner, Frederic G. Rathbun, and Bessie Cleveland (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1901), p. 118. The text for vv. 4-6 come from oral tradition.
The song is #2286 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
John Brown’s Body — not in hymnals
The song started out as a folk song, and during the Civil War more complex words were added to it. The present text follows the version published in the Chicago Tribune on Dec. 16, 1861, with a few minor changes.
The music is a composite of nineteenth century harmonizations of the tune.
This song was a favorite of white and black Americans during the Civil War, and John Brown was perceived as a white man who cared enough about black equality to give his life for the cause. It was only in the early twentieth century that racist white Americans began to say that John Brown must have been mentally ill. It’s time to reclaim this song as an anti-racist anthem, to take its place alongside all the songs of struggle from the African American tradition.
The song is #771 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
Joyful, Joyful — 29
The text, by Henry van Dyke, was written for a theme in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and published in van Dyke’s 1911 Book of Poems. A few minor changes have been made in the present text.
Although often attributed to Ludwig van Beethoven, the music is actually an arrangement Edward Hodges, of a theme by Beethoven. Hodges wrote his arrangement for Trinity Church Collection (1864). Some people will tell you that this tune is not the way Beethoven wrote it, and they’re absolutely correct; but this is, in fact, the way Hodges arranged it. (After looking at Beethoven’s score for the Ninth Symphony, I decided I appreciated Hodges’s ability to make something that’s singable by us ordinary mortals.)
K – O
Life Has Loveliness To Sell — 329
The tune comes from The Choir, or Union Collection of Church Music, published by Lowell Mason in 1832. Mason named the tune “Nashville,” but gave no attribution for the melody. The present arrangement, with a tenor and alto part different from the 1832 version, was published in The Boston Academy’s Collection of Church Music in 1836; here, the tune is said to be “arranged from a Gregorian chant.” Since Lowell Mason was on the editorial board of The Boston Academy’s Collection, it’s possible that he wrote the new tenor and alto parts, and provided the attribution.
The words are from the poem “Barter” by Sara Teasdale, published in her book Love Songs (1917). The present version has three minor changes to the words: “Oh” added to the beginning of the first and second stanzas (to better fit words to the music); “white” changed to “bright” in the third stanza.
The tune is #20427 in D. DeWitt Wasson’s Hymn-tune Index.
Lift Every Voice and Sing — 149
By brothers Rosamond Johnson (music) and James Weldon Johnson (text). The latter described the origin of this song as follows: “A group of young men in Jacksonville, Florida, arranged to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday in 1900. My brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and I decided to write a song to be sung at the exercises. I wrote the words and he wrote the music. Our New York publisher, Edward B. Marks, made mimeographed copies for us, and the song was taught to and sung by a chorus of five hundred colored school children. Shortly afterwards my brother and I moved away from Jacksonville to New York, and the song passed out of our minds. But the school children of Jacksonville kept singing it; they went off to other schools and sang it; they became teachers and taught it to other children. Within twenty years it was being sung over the South and in some other parts of the country. Today the song, popularly known as the Negro National Hymn, is quite generally used.”
Light of Ages — 190
From Unitarian hymnals dated 1925 or before.
Lo, the Earth Is Risen Again — 61
The familiar Unitarian Easter text by Samuel Longfellow, as altered in the 1924 Beacon Hymnal.
The tune is called “Easter Hymn,” and derives a tune published in Lyrica Davidica in 1708; Nicholas Temperley, in his Hymn and Tune Index, assigns this family of tunes the number 685. However, this variant of tune #685 doesn’t match any of the tunes in Temperley’s database, which only tracks tunes published in 1820 or earlier. Therefore, it appears this is a post-1820 variant of the tune. The arrangement is taken from early twentieth century Unitarian hymnals.
Lo, the Eastertide Is Here — not in hymnals
A lovely Easter text by Frederick Lucian Hosmer, from the American Unitarian Assoc. Hymn and Tune Book of 1914; I’ve altered it slightly and released the altered text into the public domain.
The music is “Warren,” a charming and catchy tune and arrangement written by the great 18th C. American composer William Billings.
The tune is #4030 in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.
Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore — not in hymnals
The texts are drawn from the 1867 book Slave Songs of the U.S., as well as transcribed from oral tradition.
The soprano and alto parts are from the 1867 book Slave Songs of the U.S. The tenor and bass parts were added to this version, and have been released into the public domain.
The song is #11975 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
Morning Hangs Its Signal, The — 40
The text, by Unitarian William Channing Gannett, appeared in a substantially different form under the title “The Crowning Day” in Unity Hymns and Chorals for the Congregation and the Home, ed. W. C. Gannett, J. V. Blake, and F. L. Hosmer (1889). The present version of the text is taken with only slight modifications from the American Unitarian Assoc. Hymn and Tune Book of 1914.
The tune is “Merionydd” by William Lloyd of Wales, and was first published in 1840. The arrangement is from the American Unitarian Assoc. Hymn and Tune Book of 1914, slightly modified.
Mother Moon — not in hymnals
An anonymous late 20th century North American chant, probably from the Pagan community. The first verse can be sung repeatedly as a chant; sing for three minutes or so. Or the other anonymous verses may be added to make a short song.
My Life Flows On in Endless Song — See: How Can I Keep from Singing?
Now Shall My Inward Joys Arise — not in hymnals
The first verse is by Isaac Watts; interestingly, towards the end of his life, Watts reportedly kept a pew at a Unitarian chapel near London. The second verse is by James Merrick. Both texts are from the eighteenth century.
The music is a brilliant choral miniature by William Billings. This tune, named “Africa” by Billings, deserves to be better known; when sung as a four-part choral piece, each part has melodic interest in itself.
The tune is #3357 in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.
O Give Us Pleasure in the Flowers — See: Prayer for Spring
O Life That Maketh All Things New — 12
The present version of the text by Samuel Longfellow was taken from the Proceeding at the Tenth Annual Meeting of the Free Religious Association (1877), where it was sung to the tune of “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” Since the Free Religious Association was non-theistic, the mention of “God” in the text may be interpreted metaphorically. I made one or two slight modifications to modernize the text.
The tune is “Truro” by Charles Burney, from the late eighteenth century; the arrangement was taken from the American Unitarian Assoc. Hymn and Tune Book of 1914.
The tune is #3991a in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.
Oh, Freedom — 156
The first three verses, tune, and arrangement are from Cabin and Plantation Songs: As Sung by the Hampton Students, 3rd ed., arranged by Thomas P. Fenner, Frederic G. Rathbun, and Bessie Cleveland (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1901), p. 114. The fourth verse comes from the Civil Rights Movement, which adapted this song for its own purposes.
The song has many additional verses, come from its use in Christian churches, but many more from its use by the Civil Rights Movement. (Many versions of this song from the Civil Rights Movement have been published, mostly in arrangements that have been copyrighted.)
Oh, Give Us Pleasure in the Flowers — See: Prayer for Spring
Oh, When the Saints — not in hymnals
The traditional New Orleans jazz standard, transcribed from oral tradition. The very simple arrangement is released into the public domain. The melody dates back to the early 1900s, with the first recorded version issued in 1923.
The song is #13983 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
On the Mount — not in hymnals
This version of Frederick L. Hosmer’s text comes from the Isles of Shoals Hymn Book and Candle Light Service, where it appears with the present tune. This is the hymnal used at the Star Island retreat center.
The tune, “Litlington Tower,” is by Joseph Barnby (1908).
Once to Every Soul and Nation — 119
The text is extracted from a “The Present Crisis,” a poem written by James Russell Lowell in 1845 to protest the Mexican American War. In the years leading up to the Civil War, abolitionists adopted it as a poetic anthem. I was not able to discover who adapted Lowell’s long poem into a hymn; it does not appear in Johnson and Longfellow’s Hymns of the Spirit (1864), but it was included in the American Unitarian Association’s abridged ed. of Hymns for Church and Home (1904).
The tune is called “Ebenezer” or “Ton-y-Botel” (lit. tune in a bottle), and was written by the Welsh composer of hymn tunes Thomas John Williams in 1890. The present arrangement was taken from the English Hymnal (1906).
Over My Head — 30
The origins of both words and tune are obscure. It’s of African American origin, and probably dates back to at least the nineteenth century. The tune is from oral tradition, with a very basic public domain arrangement.
P – T
Prayer in Spring, A (Oh Give Us Pleasure in the Flowers) — 64
The poem “A Prayer in Spring” by Robert Frost, from his book A Boy’s Will (1913).
The music is “Song 22” by Orlando Gibbons.
The tune is #392 in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.
River of Jordan — not in hymnals
A rousing spiritual in a beautiful arrangement by Harry T. Burleigh from 1918. Burleigh’s original piano accompaniment varies from verse to verse; the present arrangement uses just one of Burleigh’s verses, and is released into the public domain.
Seek Not Afar for Beauty — 77
From the poem “In Common Things” by Minot Judson Savage. The present version was taken from his book Poems of Modern Thought (1884), and slightly modernized.
In the late 20th century, this text was paired with the tune Coolinge, which is protected by copyright. However, in earlier hymnals this text was often paired with the tune “Langran,” composed by James Langran, the pleasant and easily singable melody of which covers a range of just a sixth. This version of “Langan” comes from the American Unitarian Assoc. Hymn and Tune Book of 1914.
Shall We Gather at the River — 1046
Tune, text, and arrangement are by Robert Lowry (1864). The present version was taken from Lowry’s Bright Jewels for the Sunday School (1869).
Simple Gifts — 16
The copyright status of “Simple Gifts” is complicated, as transcriptions from the manuscript source have been published as copyright-protected music; the version included here does not match any of those published versions. Chord progressions or choral arrangements for the tune may also be copyright-protected; the chord progression in the version included here is an utterly simple I-V progression which could not conceivably be protected by copyright. Both a lead sheet and a very simple SATB arrangement are provided.
Sioux Song — not in hymnals
Many Native Americans wound up at the Hampton Institute (of which the primary residents were African Americans). This song was sung by students at the Hampton Institute, and translated by them, in the late 19th century; it was published in Cabin and Plantation Songs: As Sung by the Hampton Students, 3rd ed., arranged by Thomas P. Fenner, Frederic G. Rathbun, and Bessie Cleveland (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1901), p. 152.
The transliteration of the original Sioux words is from the Hampton Institute version. Although I’ve provided chord suggestions, this chant is intended to be sung a capella.
Steal Away — not in hymnals
Tune and text from the Fisk Jubilee Singers, 1873.
Step by Step — 157
To avoid all copyright issues, the present version uses a new tune and arrangement that have been released into the public domain, along with the original 1861 words. (The version by Waldemar Hille and Pete Seeger may be entirely covered by copyright, since they significantly modified both the public domain text and the public domain music.)
Study War No More — See: Down by the Riverside
Sun Don’t Set in the Morning — not in hymnals
Text, tune, and arrangement are from Cabin and Plantation Songs: As Sung by the Hampton Students, 3rd ed., arranged by Thomas P. Fenner, Frederic G. Rathbun, and Bessie Cleveland (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1901). The text has been slightly adapted, and is released into the public domain.
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot — not in hymnals
The first version is arranged by the great African American composer Harry T. Burleigh. Note that Burleigh emphasizes the first word of the chorus, “Swing low, sweet chariot.…” The second version is a simpler 1872 arrangement by the Fisk Jubilee Singers (rebarred slightly).
The song is #5435 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
There Is More Love Somewhere — 95
Transcribed from the Alan Lomax recording of Bessie Jones singing this song (Library of Congress public domain recording). The transcription does not do justice to Jones’ many subtle variations on the basic tune, and there is no reason to sing this song exactly the same way every verse. N.B.: Jones sang this a capella.
These Things Shall Be — 138
Text by John Addington Symonds (1880), taken largely from the American Unitarian Assoc. Hymn and Tune Book of 1914.
The tune is “Truro” by Charles Burney, from the late eighteenth century; the arrangement was taken from the American Unitarian Assoc. Hymn and Tune Book of 1914.
The tune is #3991a in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.
This Little Light of Mine — 118
Though the origins of this song are obscure, the tune and text are clearly in the public domain, and date to c. 1920. Since all the arrangements found were copyright-protected, a public domain lead sheet with very basic folk-type chords is provided, as well as a very basic public domain SATB arrangement with a Swing-era turnaround to keep it from getting too boring (and to prevent anyone from claiming that this is one of the copyrighted versions).
The song is #17768 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
’Tis a Gift To Be Simple — See: Simple Gifts
U – Z
Wade in the Water — 210
Two versions of the music are given. The first version is a lead sheet with melody and chords. The melody is essentially the same as that given in Folk Songs of the American Negro, ed. Frederick J. Work (1907); the guitar chords are a simple indication of one possible harmonization. The second version is by Harry T. Burleigh, published in 1922. Burleigh’s original piano accompaniment varies from verse to verse; the present version uses one of Burleigh’s verses, and is released into the public domain.
The words are taken from oral tradition. Several of the verses are “floating verses,” used in more than one spiritual.
The song is #5439 in the Roud Folk Song Index.
We Shall Not Give Up the Fight — not in hymnals
The words are traditional/anonymous. The first three verses are attributed to South African sources; the other verses are anonymous.
While the music for this song is best known in a copyrighted arrangement by Anders Nyberg (Walton Music, 1984), Annie Patterson and Peter Blood, in their exhaustively researched Rise Again, found no copyright of the song itself, attributing it to “traditional South African.” The present version, including all three vocal parts, was published by the City of Glasgow (Scotland), with the attribution “Traditional, collected South Africa.”
We Shall Overcome — 169
In 2017, a federal court ruled that the tune, arrangement, and first verse of “We Shall Overcome” are in the public domain (We Shall Overcome Foundation v. The Richmond Organization, Inc., 2017 WL 3981311 [S.D.N.Y. Sept. 8, 2017]). In addition to the court ruling, the defendant and plaintiff subsequently entered into a settlement agreement which said, in part, that TRO would not “claim copyright in the melody or lyrics of any verse of the song ‘We Shall Overcome’”; furthermore, TRO agreed that all verses of the song were “hereafter dedicated to the public domain” (We Shall Overcome Foundation v. The Richmond Org., 330 F. Supp. 3d 960 [S.D.N.Y. 2018]).
The present arrangement is released into the public domain.
We’ll Stand the Storm — not in hymnals
A little-known but excellent spiritual, from the Fisk Jubilee Singers 1873 song book.
What Matter Though We Seek with Pain — not in hymnals
The text is three stanzas from the long poem “The Seeking of the Waterfall,” by John Greenleaf Whittier. The present version is taken from Poems of John Greenleaf Whittier, new revised edition, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1883.
The tune, called “Devotion,” was written by Alexander Johnson in 1818. The arrangement comes from the 1902 Cooper revision of The Sacred Harp.
The tune is #16108 in Nicholas Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken? — not in hymnals
Often assumed to be a folk song, the text was published in the periodical Family Memorials in 1880, where it was attributed to Mrs. M. A. Brighma.
The tune and arrangement were written by the nineteenth century gospel composer Charles Gabriel.
Woke Up This Morning — not in hymnals
The first version is a simple choral arrangement, based on oral tradition, and released into the public domain.
The second version is a lead sheet based on a recording by Pastor Jerome Jackson (youtube.com/watch?v=4CvId9Z6ebw). N.B.: During the 1960s Civil Rights movement, Rev. Robert Wesby of Aurora, Ill., substituted the word “freedom” for “Jesus” in this song (Pete Seeger, Everybody Says Freedom [New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1989]).
Wondrous Love — 18
These are the original words from Stith Mead’s General selection of the newest and most admired hymns and spiritual songs now in use (1811). The original did in fact say, “And while from death I’m free / I’ll sing and joyful be…” — this was later modified by someone with a different theology to say, “And when from death I’m free,” which has a very different meaning! The original meaning is much better aligned with present-day liberal religion.
The tune comes from the 1840 revision of William Walker’s Southern Harmony. The present arrangement of the tune dates from c. 1911 (when the alto part was added).
The tune is #33330 in D. DeWitt Wasson’s Hymn-tune Index.
Years Are Coming — 166
The text, a poem titled “The Future,” is often misattributed to Adin Ballou, but it was first published in September, 1848, in the Western Literary Messenger, where it was attributed to “G. H. C.”
Two tunes are provided. The first tune is “Pilgrim,” with which this text was often paired; this arrangement comes from the American Unitarian Assoc. Hymn and Tune Book of 1914. The second tune is “Hyfrydol”; for notes, see “City of Our Hopes.”